The woods, p.8
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       The Woods, p.8
 

           Harlan Coben
Chapter 9

  The trial was postponed for the afternoon.

  There were those who would argue that this made a difference in the case-that the jury would be left overnight with my direct and that it would settle in, blah, blah, blah. That sort of strategizing was non sense. It was the life cycle of a case. If there was a positive in this development, it would be offset by the fact that Flair Hickory would now have more time to prepare his cross. Trials work like that. You get hysterical about it, but stuff like this tends to even out.

  I called Loren Muse on my cell. "You have anything yet?"

  "Still working on it. "

  I hung up and saw there was a message from Detective York. I wasn't sure what to do anymore about Mrs. Perez lying about the scar on Gils arm. If I confronted her with it, she would probably say she just got mixed up. No harm, no foul.

  But why would she have said it in the first place?

  Was she, in fact, telling what she believed to be the truth-that this body did not belong to her son? Were both Mr. and Mrs. Perez merely making a grievous (but understandable) mistake here-that it was so hard to fathom that their Gil had been alive this whole time that they could not accept what their own eyes were showing them?

  Or were they lying?

  And if they were lying, well, why?

  Before I confronted them, I needed to have more facts on hand. I would have to provide definitive proof that the corpse in the morgue with the alias Manolo Santiago was really Gil Perez, the young man who had disappeared into the woods with my sister and Margot Green and Doug Billingham nearly twenty years ago.

  York's message said: "Sorry it took me so long to get this. You asked about Raya Singh, the victims girlfriend. We only had a cell on her, believe it or not. Anyway, we called up. She works at an Indian restaurant on Route 3 near the Lincoln Tunnel. " He gave me the name and ad dress. "She's supposed to be there all day. Hey, if you learn anything about Santiago's real name, let me know. Far as we can tell, he's had the alias for a while. We got some hits on him out in the Los Angeles area from six years ago. Nothing heavy. Talk to you later. "

  I wondered what to make of that. Not much. I headed to my car, and as soon as I started to slide in, I knew something was very wrong.

  There was a manila envelope sitting on the driver's seat.

  I knew it wasn't mine. I knew I hadn't left it here. And I knew that I had locked my car doors. Someone had broken into my car. I stopped and picked up the envelope. No address, no postage. The front was totally blank. It felt thin. I sat down in the front seat and closed the door behind me. The envelope was sealed. I slit it open with my index finger. I reached in and plucked out the contents.

  Ice poured in my veins when I saw what it was:

  A photograph of my father.

  I frowned. What the. . . ?

  On the bottom, neatly typed on the white border, was his name and the year: "Vladimir Copeland. " That was all. I didn't get it.

  I just sat there for a moment. I stared at the photograph of my be loved father. I thought about how he had been a young doctor in Lenin grad, how so much had been taken away from him, how his life ended up being an endless series of tragedies and disappointments. I remember him arguing with my mother, both of them wounded with no one to strike at but each other. I remembered my mother crying by herself. I remembered sitting some of those nights with Camille. She and I never fought, weird for a brother and sister, but may be we had seen enough. Sometimes she would take my hand or say that we should take a walk. But most of the time we would go into her room and Camille would put on one other favorite dopey pop songs and tell me about it, about why she liked it, as if it had hidden meanings, and then she'd tell me about some boy she liked at school. I would sit there and listen and feel the strangest contentment.

  I didn't get it. Why was this photograph. . . ?

  There was something else in the envelope.

  I turned it upside down. Nothing. I dug with my hand to the bottom. It felt like an index card. I pulled it into view. Yep, an index card. White with red lines. That side-the lined side-was left blank. But on the other side, the side that was plain white, someone had typed three words all in caps:

  THE FIRST SKELETON

  "You know who sent the journal?" Lucy asked. "Not yet," Lonnie said. "But I will. " "How?" Lonnie kept his head down. Gone was the confident swagger. Lucy felt bad about that. He didn't like what she was making him do. She didn't like it either. But there was no choice here. She had worked hard to conceal her past. She had changed her name. She had not let Paul find her. She had gotten rid of her naturally blond hair-man, how many women her age had naturally blond hair?-and replaced it with this brown mess.

  "Okay," she said. "You'll be here when I get back?"

  He nodded. Lucy headed down the stairs to her car.

  On TV it seems so easy to get a new identity. Maybe it was, but Lucy hadn't found that to be the case. It was a slow process. She started by changing her last name from Silverstein to Gold. Silver to Gold. Clever, no? She didn't think so, but somehow it worked for her, still gave her a link to the father she had so loved.

  She had moved around the country. The camp was long gone. So were all her father's assets. And so, in the end, was most of her father.

  What remained of Ira Silverstein, her father, was housed in a half way house ten miles from the campus of Reston University. She drove, enjoying the time alone. She listened to Tom Waits sing that he hoped he didn't fall in love, but of course, he does. She pulled into the lot. The house, a converted mansion on a large tract of land, was nicer than most. Lucy's entire salary pretty much went here.

  She parked near her father's old car, a rusted-out yellow VW Beetle. The Beetle was always in the exact same spot. She doubted that it had moved from there in the past year. Her father had freedom here. He could leave anytime. He could check himself in and check out. But the sad fact was, he almost never left his room. The leftist bumper stickers that had adorned the vehicle had all faded away. Lucy had a copy of the VW key and every once in a while she started it up, just to keep the battery in operating order. Doing that, just sitting in the car, brought flash backs. She saw Ira driving it, the full beard, the windows open, the smile, the wave and honk to everyone he passed.

  She never had the heart to take it out for a spin.

  Lucy signed in at the front desk. This house was fairly specialized, catering to older residents with lifelong drug and mental issues. There seemed to be a tremendous range in here, everything from those who appeared totally "normal" to people who could double as extras in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

  Ira was a little of both.

  She stopped in his doorway. Ira's back was to her. He wore the familiar hemp poncho. His gray hair was an every-direction shock. "Let's Live for Today" by The Grass Roots, a classic from 1967, boomed from what her father still called a "hi-fi. " Lucy paused as Rob Grill, the lead vocalist, did the big "1,2, 3, 4" countdown before the group blasted in for another "sha-la-la-la-la, lets live for today. " She closed her eyes and mouthed along with the words.

  Great, great stuff.

  There were beads in the room and tie-dye and a "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" poster. Lucy smiled, but there was little joy in it.

  Nostalgia was one thing-a deteriorating mind another.

  Early dementia had crept in-from age or drug use, no one could say-and staked a claim. Ira had always been spacey and living in the past, so it was hard to say how gradual the slide had been. That was what the doctors said. But Lucy knew that the initial break, the initial push down the slide, had occurred that summer. Ira took a lot of the blame for what happened in those woods. It was his camp. He should have done more to protect his campers.

  The media went after him but not as hard as the families. Ira was too sweet a man to handle it. It broke him.

  Ira barely left his room now. His mind bounced around decades, but this one-the sixties-was the only one he felt comfortable in. Half
the time he actually thought it was still 1968. Other times he knew the truth-y0U could see it in his expression-but he just didn't want to face it. So as part of the new "validation therapy," his doctors let his room, for all intents and purposes, be 1968.

  The doctor had explained that this sort of dementia did not improve with age, so you want the patient to be as happy and stress free as possible, even if that means living something of a lie. In short, Ira wanted it to be 1968. That was where he was happiest. So why fight it?

  "Hey, Ira. " Ira-he had never wanted her to call him "Dad"-did the slow "meds" turn toward her voice. He raised his hand, as though under water, and waved. "Hey, Luce. "

  She blinked away the tears. He always recognized her, always knew who she was. If the fact that he was living in 1968 and his daughter hadn't even been born then seemed like a contradiction, well, it was. But that never shattered Ira's illusion.

  He smiled at her. Ira had always been too big-hearted, too generous, too childlike and naive, for a world this cruel. She would refer to him as an "ex-hippie" but that implied that at some point Ira gave up being a hippie. Long after everyone else had turned in their tie-dyes and flower power and peace beads, after the others had gotten haircuts and shaved off their beards, Ira stayed true to the cause.

  During Lucy's wonderful childhood, Ira had never raised his voice to her. He had almost no filter, no boundaries, wanting his daughter to see and experience everything, even what was probably inappropriate. Weirdly enough, that lack of censorship had made his only child, Lucy Silverstein, somewhat prudish by the days standards.

  "I'm so happy you're here. . . ," Ira said, half stumbling toward her.

  She took a step in and embraced him. Her father smelled of age and body odor. The hemp needed to be cleaned. "Hoare you feeling, Ira?" "Great. Never better. " He opened a bottle and took a vitamin. Ira did that a lot. Despite his non-capitalist ways, her father had made a small fortune in vitamins during the early seventies. He cashed out and bought that property on the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border. For a while he ran it as a commune. But that didn't last. So he turned it into a summer camp.

  "So how are you?" she asked.

  "Never better, Luce. "

  And then he started crying. Lucy sat with him and held his hand.

  He cried, then he laughed, then he cried again. He kept telling her over and over how much he loved her. "You're the world, Luce," he said. "I see you. . . I see everything that should be. You know what I mean?"

  "I love you too, Ira. "

  "See? That's what I mean. I'm the richest man in the world. "

  Then he cried again.

  She couldn't stay long. She needed to get back to her office and see what Lonnie had learned. Ira's head was on her shoulder. The dandruff and odor were getting to her. When a nurse came in, Lucy used the interruption to extricate herself from him. She hated herself for it.

  "I'll be back next week, okay?"

  Ira nodded. He was smiling when she left.

  In the corridor the nurse-Lucy forgot her name-was waiting for her. "How has he been?" Lucy asked.

  This was normally a rhetorical question. These patients were all bad, but their families didn't want to hear that. So the nurse would normally say, "Oh, he's doing just fine," but this time, she said, "Your father has been more agitated lately. "

  "How so?" "Ira is normally the sweetest, most gentle man in the universe. But his mood swings-"

  "He's always had mood swings. "

  "Not like these. "

  "Has he been nasty?"

  "No. It's not that. . . "

  "Then what?"

  She shrugged. "He's been talking about the past a lot. "

  "He always talks about the sixties. "

  "No, not that far in the past. "

  "What then?"

  "He talks about a summer camp. "

  Lucy felt a slow thud in her chest. "What does he say?"

  "He says he owned a summer camp. And then he loses it. He starts ranting about blood and the woods and the dark, stuff like that. Then he clams up. It's creepy. And before last week, I never even heard him say a word about a camp, let alone that he owned one. Unless, of course, well, Ira's mind does wander. Maybe he's just imagining he did?"

  It was said as a question, but Lucy didn't answer it. From down the hall another nurse called, "Rebecca?" The nurse, whom she now realized was named Rebecca, said, "I have to run. "

  When Lucy was alone in the corridor, she looked back in the room. Her father's back was to her. He was staring at the wall. She wondered what was going on in his head. What he wasn't telling her.

  What he really knew about that night.

  She tore herself away and headed toward the exit. She reached the receptionist who asked her to sign out. Each patient had his own page. The receptionist flipped to Ira's and spun the book for Lucy to sign. She had the pen in her hand and was about to do the same absentminded scribble she had done on the way in when she stopped.

  There was another name there. Last week. Ira had another visitor. His first and only visitor besides, well, her. Ever. She frowned and read the name. It was wholly unfamiliar. Who the hell was Manolo Santiago?